Lewis: Out of the Silent Planet

Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, #1)Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read the ‘excursionary’ Space Trilogy numerous times since 1992. Only recently have I been clued into the influence of the medieval cosmology which Lewis loved so much. In the past I enjoyed the book on its merits, but since, I have grown in my enjoyment of the attempt made by Lewis to let us enter a martial world in which the will stands like caryatids under the weight of necessary obedience.

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Lewis: Out of the Silent Planet was originally published on Grace Presbyterian Church

Merry Meeting

I just learned that Tolkein and Lewis first met on May 11, 1926 my birthday–albeit not 1926. Alan Jacobs in his book on Lewis, The Narnian, writes of Lewis’ first impression of Tolkein in this way,

“…the two young dons talked for the first time. In his diary entry…Lewis contrives to condescend to a man who, though just six years his senior, had achieved far more and whose career seemed at that time far more promising: ‘He is a smooth, pale, fluent little chap…. No harm in him: only needs a smack or so.'”

In spite of the posturing, this is for me, a merry meeting which brought together two for whom and whose work I hold dear. And to discover their meeting happened on my birthday, provides a picture for me to better understand my fragmented and sundered self. Because of these two, I so enjoy the merry wedding of language and story–of epic and symbol. These twins: Tolkein and Lewis, are my Castor and Polux–the rider of Rohan and the boxing apologist.

The Grand Design ain’t so grand, and as for design?

A review over at The Economist has this to say of Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s new book, The Grand Design. Particularly curious is the assertion of Hawking and Mlodinow that “philosophy is dead”.

There is a potted history of physics, which is adequate as far as it goes, though given what the authors have to say about Aristotle, one can only hope that they are more reliable about what happened billions of years ago at the birth of the universe than they are about what happened in Greece in the fourth century BC. Their account appears to be based on unreliable popularisations, and they cannot even get right the number of elements in Aristotle’s universe (it is five, not four).

The authors rather fancy themselves as philosophers, though they would presumably balk at the description, since they confidently assert on their first page that “philosophy is dead.” It is, allegedly, now the exclusive right of scientists to answer the three fundamental why-questions with which the authors purport to deal in their book. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? And why this particular set of laws and not some other?

It is hard to evaluate their case against recent philosophy, because the only subsequent mention of it, after the announcement of its death, is, rather oddly, an approving reference to a philosopher’s analysis of the concept of a law of nature, which, they say, “is a more subtle question than one may at first think.” There are actually rather a lot of questions that are more subtle than the authors think. It soon becomes evident that Professor Hawking and Mr Mlodinow regard a philosophical problem as something you knock off over a quick cup of tea after you have run out of Sudoku puzzles.

Of these sorts of philosophical leaps as well as the assertion that science has superseded it, C.S. Lewis wrote,

If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents–the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts–i.e. of Materialism and Astronomy–are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give me a correct account of all the other accidents. It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milk-jug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.

Planet 51

Over at Space.com is a report of an exoplanet (a planet orbiting another star) which is at an optimal orbit around it’s star–one which is favorable to life. Astrophysicist Steven Vogt has this to say about the discovery.

“Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent,” said Steven Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, during a press briefing today. “I have almost no doubt about it.”

How does “life flourish wherever it can”? If “life happens” why can’t it happen anywhere?

The Chaste Beams of the Watery Moon

If you hadn’t noticed, the Moon is full today.

Oberon, in a Midsummer’s Night Dream says the Moon is ‘watery’. Indeed, from our vantage point, it looks to be covered in lakes. Even the ancients noticed the effect the Moon had on the tides. Luna was even imagined to ride in a canoe as she phased.

Shakespeare in a Midsummer Night’s Dream employs the literary imagery and symbolism which Luna provides. In fact, Midsummer Night’s Dream had to take place under the Moon who influences the actions of both the real and fairy worlds: making men wander and enchanting them.

Here’s C.S. Lewis on the Moon or Luna.

“Lady LUNA, in light canoe,
By friths and shallows of fretted cloudland
Cruises monthly; with chrism of dews
And drench of dream, a drizzling glamour,
Enchants us–the cheat! changing sometime
A mind to madness, melancholy pale,
Bleached with gazing on her blank count’nance
Orb’d and ageless. In earth’s bosom
The shower of her rays, sharp-feathered light
Reaching downward, ripens silver,
Forming and fashioning female brightness,
–Metal maidenlike. Her moist circle
Is nearest earth”

from “The Planets” by C.S. Lewis